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Schnell Perfect Ambassador for Husker Golf

By Brian Rosenthal

Judd Cornell was 14 years old when his father, Mike, a teaching professional at Oak Hills Country Club in Omaha, told his only son to head to the course’s fourth hole one nice summer day.

There, young Judd would meet the 13-year-old son of the club’s newest golf professional. His instructions were to finish playing a round with the young newcomer, who was looking for a golf partner, and make him feel comfortable, at home.

“All I remember was he was wearing black pants and a red shirt, like a total Tiger Woods outfit,” Judd Cornell said, recalling the encounter. “It was the middle of summer, and he was wearing pants, and I was like, ‘OK, who is this guy?’ ”

Well, the kid’s name was Brady Schnell, somebody with whom Cornell would play many, many rounds of golf over the years, and somebody who’s today reaching the pinnacle of his golfing career.

Not only is Schnell, a 2007 Nebraska graduate and first-team All-Big 12 golf player, on the verge of earning his PGA Tour card, he also teed off Thursday at the 147th British Open at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland.

“He’s probably the best competitor I’ve ever come across,” said Cornell, today the assistant golf coach at Nebraska. “He has won big events at every single level he’s played – college, junior golf, when he first turned pro, won on the mini-tours – he’s always won at the right time, which isn’t easy to do in golf.”

To wit: Last November, Schnell participated on the PGA Tour-Latin America when he won the Argentine Open, which has an affiliation to the British Open, with the winner earning an automatic qualification.

This appearance overseas comes only a few weeks after Schnell secured his first career victory on the Web.com Tour – considered the minor leagues of professional golf – when he won the Wichita Open in June.

That prompted a tweet from PGA Tour veteran Gary player.

“He seems like a really good ambassador for the game,” Schnell said in a phone interview two days before departing for Europe. “I don’t know him personally, but for him to take the time to do that and then reference my wife and son, obviously he took the time to look at my bio and everything.

“I think I’ve seen him do that for first-time winners before, and I think that’s a perfect thing to do for someone like himself in the position that he’s in, as a legend.”

Speaking of good ambassadors, Schnell is just that for Nebraska. He wore a Nebraska shirt during his interview on The Golf Channel about his qualification for the British Open. He even talked football during the interview, telling the network he “couldn’t stop smiling” after the hiring of football coach Scott Frost.

“Oh, man, it’s amazing,” Schnell said about Frost during his phone interview. “He’s just the kind of guy who’s going to figure it out and get it done no matter what it takes. He just seems super smart, you know? A great football mind and everything.”

What Frost – who led Nebraska to the 1997 national championship – is to Nebraska football, Schnell is to Nebraska golf.

He became only the fifth Husker alum to win on the Web.com Tour, joining Mike Schuchart (3), Steve Gotsche (2), Scott Gutschewski (2) and Steve Friesen (1), marking a total of nine victories by former Husker golfers.

His victory in Wichita vaulted Schnell to 12th place on the money list, with $156,478. A year ago, it took $157,823 to be one of the top 25 money winners who went on to earn their PGA Tour cards.

Schnell would be the seventh former Husker to do so.

“I’ve still got work to do, but if things go well – and I don’t see why they wouldn’t – it’s just confirmation of what I’ve worked on and strived to get to,” Schnell said of attaining PGA Tour status. “It’s just a really hard game. Not a lot of people, whether they don’t have it physically or mentally, they don’t have a chance to do that, considering the number of people who would like to do that. The percentages are pretty small.”

Said Cornell of Schnell’s likelihood of making the PGA Tour: “It would be like a football team having a 21-point lead going into the fourth quarter.”

Until a golfer gains PGA Tour status, “it can be a little less glamourous” playing professional golf than people may think, Schnell said.

“Things definitely jump up tenfold on the PGA Tour, across the board,” he said.

Schnell has worked over the past couple of years with Mike Cornell – Judd’s father – at Champions Run Golf Course in Omaha.

“We’ve gotten my swing a lot more in line with where it needs to be,” Schnell said. “As far as lately, it’s kind of been the iron game. It’s gotten better. It’s gotten back to where … you know, it’s been quite a while since I’ve had the iron game that I’ve needed. But the driver and putter are working well.”

Schnell played in the 2006 British Amateur at Royal St. George’s Golf Club, but this weekend will be his first at Carnoustie Golf Links. To that end, he hired a local caddie and PGA member who’s been a caddie since he was 14 and knows the course very well. Schnell left Omaha on Friday with the intent of getting in 2-3 practice rounds with the caddie.

“I’ve played enough golf courses to where you go to them and – this one is obviously going to be a little bit trickier and a lot more nuances to it – but you just get used to playing different stuff,” Schnell said, noting he’s watched enough British Opens on television to know he’ll get some good breaks, and some bad ones.

“You just kind of have to roll with it.”

Judd Cornell has faith in his longtime friend and former teammate this weekend. He said Schnell won’t be the least bit afraid, largely because of his competitive nature.

“I think he has something that can separate him, and that’s his willingness to step up to the plate when he has to,” Judd Cornell said. “If there’s a guy who needs to hit a shot in a big moment, he’s a guy I would pick out of anyone in the world – aside from maybe Tiger Woods. That’s how I would describe his mental game.

“He’s very accurate off the tee. He’s a great iron player, a great wedge player, and a great putter. He’s not overly long, but he gets in play, and when it comes time with his irons, especially his short irons and wedges, he’s world-class.”

Before moving to Nebraska, Schnell grew up in Iowa, where he admittedly grew up a Hawkeyes fan. He didn’t need long to convert to a Husker.

“Obviously, living in Nebraska, you’ve got to try not to be a fan,” Schnell said. “I couldn’t help it. I just started to fall in love with them.”

Schnell established himself as a two-sport athlete at Millard West High School, where he also excelled in baseball. He didn’t participate in golf his senior year so he could play on the diamond, where he led the state with 18 doubles and ranked among the Class A leaders in batting average (.400), RBIs (22), runs (30) and strikeouts as a pitcher (42).

But when it came time for college, Schnell knew his future was in golf. Among the coaches who recruited him heavily was Mark Hankins, the head coach at Michigan State.

Just last month, Hankins accepted the head golf coaching position at Nebraska. He said the Huskers need more players like Schnell who are great ambassadors for the program.

“Obviously, he’s proud of playing at Nebraska,” Hankins said of Schnell. “He’s proud of his school, and he wants his school to do well. He’ll be back around this fall, and we’ll expose him to our players in whatever way we can. Those guys have such great stories to tell. They’re doing what most of these guys want to do. He’s able to share some things and give some perspective.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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